Child Soldiers, Slavery, and the Trafficking of Children

86 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2007 Last revised: 13 Oct 2008

Date Written: October 2007


Human trafficking is a human rights violation that rises to the level of slavery. Trafficking is the purchase and sale of human beings for the purpose of exploitation of forced labor, such as sex work or participation in armed conflict. The recruitment of a child (a person under the age of eighteen) for the purpose of sexual exploitation or participation in armed conflict is considered trafficking in persons.

In 2000, it was estimated that 13 million children were displaced as a result of warring conflicts. During the civil war in Sierra Leone, more than one million children were displaced, and 25,000 children (some as young as eight years old) were abducted and forced to become members of armed groups. Currently, over 300,000 children are serving as child soldiers in fifty countries in every region of the world. While child participation in armed conflict is not new, child soldiering today is a widespread phenomenon, prevalent particularly in developing countries where political, economic, and social instability are more common place and where approximately half the population consists of children. These children are subjected daily to dehumanizing atrocities.

Children who are trafficked into child soldiering - girls as well as boys - are often abducted from their homes, tortured, brutally indoctrinated, forced to become intoxicated with mind-altering drugs, threatened with death or dismemberment if they do not fight, forced to return to their homes to witness or participate in the death or disfigurement of their own family members, required to kill friends who do not obey their commanders, and forced to watch the punishment of other child soldiers who attempt to escape. Some children who tried to escape have reportedly been boiled alive, and other child soldiers forced to eat the human flesh as part of their training. Girls are often raped, enslaved, and victimized by sexual violence on a daily basis. These children are drugged to make them fearless, empowered with weapons, and indoctrinated or brainwashed to commit atrocities.

Despite a proliferation of international human rights treaties, labor laws, and humanitarian laws that should provide children with special protection from this heinous form of abuse, the trafficking of children and the use of children as soldiers is increasing. This article examines the relationship between human trafficking, slavery, and child soldiering. Part I analyzes the root causes of child soldiering. Part II considers the laws designed to protect children from this abuse. Part III examines two literary representations of child soldiering and the significant insights such representations can provide to the international community. Part IV concludes by offering some cultural and economic solutions to the global failure to implement the many legal instruments that should protect children from being abducted and used as child soldiers.

Keywords: child soldiers, human trafficking, sex trafficking, child trafficking, victims of trafficking, human rights, slavery

JEL Classification: K14, K33, K42

Suggested Citation

Tiefenbrun, Susan, Child Soldiers, Slavery, and the Trafficking of Children (October 2007). TJSL Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1020341, Available at SSRN: or

Susan Tiefenbrun (Contact Author)

Thomas Jefferson School of Law ( email )

701 B Street
Suite 110
San Diego, CA 92101
United States
619-961-4318 (Phone)

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